'Welcome back' mural for San Jose elementary school defaced

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San Jose Unified School District officials are searching for a vandal, who defaced a recently-painted mural of Cesar Chavez. And even anti-graffiti measures weren’t enough to save the popular artwork.

It was meant as a "welcome back" gift for Lowell Elementary School in Downtown San Jose. On the outside of a 20 by 30-foot maintenance shed, is a mural of Cesar Chavez.

"It was a wonderful mural. It was a gift to the students, a gift to the staff, and a gift to the community,” said Lili Smith, spokeswoman for the San Jose Unified School District.

In June, a local artist painted the likeness as part of a neighborhood improvement project through funds from Assemblyman Ash Kalra. All was well until Monday, hours before parents arrived for back-to-school night. A vandal entered school grounds and painted graffiti over the mural. 

"We had parents showing up as early as 4 p.m. We wanted to make sure that parents felt proud of their school. So we had to cover it up,” said Lowell Elementary School Principal Ramon Sanchez.

District officials say their policy is to remove graffiti within 24 to 48 hours. Head painter Reuben Bermudez says the mural had an anti-graffiti coating applied, which should have allowed the vandal’s work to be washed off. But the shed’s surface made it impossible to save the mural.

“I tried to clean it off with lacquer, and it wasn’t coming off," said Bermudez. "It was just smearing everything and I couldn’t get into the pores of the surface."

District officials say they have surveillance video of the tagger defacing the mural in just nine minutes. And after he was done, he took out a cell phone and took a picture of it.

In a statement, Assemblyman Kalra said in part," We have an opportunity to band together as a community to help ensure that this does not happen again." 

District officials say they’re working with San Jose police to track down the person responsible for this crime and to better protect the other 80 plus murals in the district.

“It was a beautiful piece. It depicted a part of our history and now it’s gone. And we hope to replace it and not let the graffiti artist win,” said Smith.

Anyone with information about the crime is asked to call San Jose police.